Photos by Robert Boyd
Rockport's craggy coastline offers visitors and residents alike an authentic New England seaside experience.
Rockport is a postcard-perfect coastal New England town, with sweeping ocean views, winding roads, and an almost magical quality of light that has attracted artists for decades. Naturally, tourists love Rockport, but so do those who call it home. It seems that no matter how long people have lived in the seaside village, they never fail to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. The magic never wears off.
“I think the people who live here realize what a special place it is and don’t take that for granted,” says Sarah Wilkinson, a member of the Rockport board of selectman. “I think there are so many different ways to enjoy it.”
Tourists flock to the rocky peninsula Bearskin Neck, and for good reason. Rockport’s downtown is wonderfully walkable, and chock-full of shops selling paintings and pottery from local artists, fun little eateries, art studios, and, of course, views of the ocean and the famous red fishing shack, Motif No. 1— one of the most frequently painted and photographed buildings in the country. Bearskin Neck and beyond also make up the Rockport Cultural District, which includes more than 40 art galleries and studios, the Rockport Art Association, and the stunning, world-renowned Shalin Liu Performance Center, which is home to Rockport Music and the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. The Shalin Liu is highly regarded, not only for the talent that it attracts, but also for its breathtaking aesthetics, which include an interior crafted of granite and wood, and a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Rockport Harbor behind the stage. “You can see concerts here that you used to have to go to Boston for,” says Wilkinson. “For those of us who grew up here, that’s just wild.”
But for all of downtown’s fun and bustle, there’s more to see and do in Rockport for those who wish to escape the familiar, tourist-trodden paths. And much of it revolves around the ocean and the outdoors. Visitors can learn about Rockport’s past as a granite industry powerhouse by visiting Halibut Point State Park and touring the old Babson Farm quarry, or simply hike around and marvel at the imposing granite cliffs that plunge to tidal pools below. Since Halibut Point State Park is along the North American Migratory Path, it’s a favorite spot for bird watchers, too. And unlike many other towns, where much of the oceanfront land is often privately owned, that’s not the case in Rockport. In addition to commercial fishing—an industry that’s active in Rockport, though not as large as it is in Gloucester—sport fishing is also popular.
Artst Chris Coyne
“The cool thing about Rockport is there are so many spots where you can fish from the rocks,” says Wilkinson. “There’s a lot of public access to the water.”
Another way for people to get out onto the water and explore local history and nature is by taking a boat out to Thacher Island, which is about a mile off the coast of Rockport. A National Historic Landmark and wildlife refuge, Thacher Island is home to the oldest operating twin lighthouses in the country, which were builtin 1861 to warn sailors of a dangerous reef and to distinguish the Cape Ann lights from the Portsmouth and Boston lights to the north and south.
From the first Saturday in June through Labor Day, visitors can take a boat from the town dock next to Sandy Bay Yacht Club out to the island to explore its trails, climb the lighthouse towers, and visit its historic buildings. Although the island gets about 3,000 visitors a year, Paul St. Germain, president of the Thacher Island Association and Rockport resident, says even many locals haven’t visited the beautiful little gem offshore.
“They don’t realize what’s out there,” he says. “It’s only a mile off the coast, but it’s really desolate...really all you hear are the seagulls and the ocean.”
St. Germain is one of many people who found themselves coming back to Rockport so often as vacationers that they eventually just decided to stay.
“It’s just a great place to be. We just love Rockport. It’s paradise. It’s the best move we ever made,” he says. “It’s amazing how many people we have known or met over the years who have done the same thing.” Edna Beaudoin, whose family is from Rockport and who returned to town in the 1970s after growing up there, agrees. “Who wouldn’t want to live in Rockport?” she says.
Date of settlement: 1623 Date of incorporation: 1840 Area: 17.5 square miles Population: 6,592 ZIP code: 01966 Median household income: $50,661 Public schools: Rockport Elementary School, Rockport Middle School, Rockport High School Notable residents: Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Paula Cole; writer and director of Pixar films (including Finding Nemo) Andrew Stanton; coastal and landscape painter Otis Cook; Miss Massachusetts USA 2004 and owner of M. Lekkakos Salon, Spa & Boutique Maria Lekkakos; drummer for The Cars David Robinson; civil rights lawyer and former Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts Julian Soshnick
REAL ESTATE (Median)
34 South Street, 3 bd, 3 ba, 2,296 sq. ft., 0.31 acre
Agent: J. Barrett & Company
REAL ESTATE (High End)
19 Pleasant Street, 6 bd, 4 full ba, 2 partial ba, 6,436 sq. ft., 1.79 acres, pool, tennis court
Agent: By the Sea Sotheby's International Realty